There were the timid, who signed their initials in tiny letters. There were the bold, who covered more than 100 square feet of canvas with flashy depictions of their house, or their car, or themselves. There were abstract expressionists and surrealists. There were compulsively neat workers who covered large areas without shedding a drop of paint on themselves, and there were others who happily turned themselves into a walking color show.

All along the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, more than 2,000 amateur painters and grafitti artists helped to create what its promoters proclaimed the world's largest mural--a glowing 600-foot-long expanse of canvas destined to stand for only a few hours along the block.

The idea came from the federal Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, in charge of guiding real estate development along Pennsylvania Avenue. The impulse came from deep within the soul of anyone who has ever repressed the urge to spraypaint a name, or a message, or simply a color, on a sidewalk or a subway wall.

"I was driving home from work and I saw this big painting going on," said Victoria Baucom, who works in Rosslyn. "I thought, 'this is my opportunity!' You can't paint on the sides of subways here like people do in New York, unfortunately." Her painting was simple, red flowers in short bold strokes, and then the name "Darric" in larger letters. "Darric is my son," she volunteered. "And I want his name to be a part of the largest mural in the world."

The canvas, six 100-foot segments stitched together for length, was in place by 6 a.m. Saturday, and festival officials said the first drop of paint fell on it by 9 a.m. Before four cranes hoisted the mural into a horizontal position shortly after 4 p.m., officials said, more than 300 gallons of paint had been brushed on it.

Early arrivals had space to work. An ambitious artist, or a group of them, occupied center space with a naif, 50-foot tall depiction of the White House, complete with Rose Garden and Montgolfier balloons floating in a bright blue sky. From one of the White House windows, a glamorous blond in a high bouffant hair-do, dark glasses and red strapless dress looked out. Her presence exuded mystery.

There were messages in the mural for the spiritually thirsty; under an enormous tree that could easily pass for an oak were the words "We Are Leaves of One Tree." Others were more cryptic. The ghost that haunts DuPont Circle showed up briefly to write, in black letters, his oft-repeated message, "Elect the Dead."

But the general tone of the mural was overwhelmingly cheerful, as if the child's palette of colors provided by the organizers--prime red, blue, green orange and yellow--had released a wealth of innocence in the heart of every contributor.

"We were aware of the possibility that obscene or unpleasant things might be written," said Thomas Regan, executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, "but as it turned out we had absolutely no reason to think of censoring anything."

By late afternoon there was hardly a spot of unpainted canvas left. As the merciless heat finally eased a bit, the cranes hoisted the canvas into a rising wind. "It was magnificent," said Regan. "When it finally went up you could see everyone running to see the portion they had painted. People seemed just overwhelmed by the grandeur of what they had created."

The separate 100 foot segments of canvas will be displayed along the avenue in future festivals, Regan said. "There are a lot of things happening along the avenue--the reopening of the National Theater and of the Old Post Office Building Market Place--so there will be occasions to display the mural in its entirety or in segments throughout the year."

Regan then excused himself. He said he had not painted anything on the mural yesterday, "and I'd just better go do that before it gets put away."